Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- With the advent of summer, religious lectures and sessions flourish across Saudi Arabia to the extent that the school break has become known as the “preaching season”.
Popular summer destinations are flooded with religious leaflets and brochures that target a range of topics. However, the published information is not subjected to any religious review therefore, the content may be incorrect. There are also fears that these leaflets may contain a number of extreme and isolated rulings and opinions.
Dr Mohammed al Turki, representative for the Ministry of Islamic affairs stated that the ministry is not responsible for monitoring the phenomenon of these religious edicts and brochures. He told Asharq Al Awsat, “We are not the official authority that is responsible for monitoring such publications, however; we do analyze what is being published to look at the ideas that are being spread and to tackle issues that we feel people need to understand better.” Thus, understanding will be reached by publishing books that express, “the correct position in religion on certain issues and uncovering the truth on misconceptions.”
Al Turki emphasized, “Nowadays, there is a clear phenomenon of cultural and ideological openness and various means of publication. This has both positive and negative aspects.” Al Turki stated that he believes that the responsibility lies with the reader. He argues that the reader should be cautious and not blindly accept the ideas that are expressed in these leaflets. Furthermore, readers should turn to trustworthy scholars on controversial issues.
A number of academics and intellects have stressed the importance of observing these leaflets just as scientific, cultural and even certain religious publications are monitored. Al Turki considered the best way to deal with published material in every form is to support their positive features whilst producing other publications to counter inaccurate information.
On his part, Said Salah al Ghamdi, the general secretary of internal media in the Ministry of Information branch in Mecca, asserted the importance of monitoring such publications. Al Ghamdi stated, “Those who publish these leaflets should firstly submit drafts to the Ministry of Information before publishing and distributing them. However, most people do not actually follow this procedure. Therefore, our role concerning such publications is to supervise. If we do not find content that deviates from the fundamental religious teachings then we allow the leaflet to be published. Legally however, to publish these pamphlets without permission from the Ministry of Information is a violation of the law. The law stipulates that the owners of print houses are to present draft copies of the publications to the ministry first. However, many of these owners believe that printing these books and leaflets is a virtuous act.”
Concerning the inaccuracies found in such publications and the black market of suspect religious edicts, al Ghamdi said, “The role of the supervising bodies is to verify the content of these publications. As for the religious edicts, there are too many scholars and people issuing religious edicts these days. However, I believe that those supervising the fatwas have a great share of expertise and knowledge that enables them to decide whether these religious rulings are in accordance with the established scholars in Saudi Arabia.” He continued, “What is wrong in these leaflets is mainly the intimidation and admonition that they express. Some even attempt to support the content by falsely attributing sayings to the Prophet.”